George Lucas (May 7, 1821 – March 2, 1892) was born in County Clare, Ireland; he first came to Hawaiʻi in 1849. His father, the first George Lucas, moved his family to Australia by the British government to take charge of the government domain there.
He remained there for several years, and met and married Miss Sarah Williams. Shortly after his marriage, hearing of the gold excitement in California, he set sail, accompanied by his wife, for San Francisco.
En route, they stopped in the Islands for three weeks for the ship to re-provision, finally reaching California on the last day of December, 1849. He met with little success as a miner, deciding, instead, to remain in San Francisco and establish himself as a carpenter. He prospered for about six years; however, had a severe loss due to a fire.
He could not forget Hawaiʻi, and in July, 1856, he returned there to make the Islands his home. He began his contracting and building business, and founded the Honolulu Steam Planing Mill.
The energy and perseverance of the man brought its reward when he opened the Mill on the Esplanade – a “shapely stuccoed brick structure.” This mill was one of Honolulu’s leading manufacturing establishments, and has always furnished employment to a large number of mechanics and laborers. (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 03, 1892)
Although the plant began in a small way, turning out finishings and equipment needed for his contracting jobs, its volume of business grew steadily and became the largest concern of its kind in the islands. (Nellist)
“This mill is well fitted and complete in every respect, having machines of the latest patterns and make, and capabilities for turning out work in great variety. It is fitted with a planer, strikers, blind machines, morticers, running lathes, band and jig saws, tenoning machine, and rip and cross-cut saws of every size, and other machines.”
“The proprietor, Mr. George Lucas, first started business in this city March 7, 1859, but found that the rapidly-increasing demand for woodwork finish, in all its requirements, made it absolutely necessary for him to open the present establishment, which now ranks second to none in any city.”
“First-class workmen are employed in this establishment, and all work is guaranteed. The mill is of brick, 82 x 42 feet, and 14 feet high. The engine is of twenty-horse power. Twenty men are employed in this establishment.” (Browser; Maly)
Lucas’ Honolulu Planing Mill building served a couple other critical purposes at Honolulu Harbor. First, the clock tower served as a range marker for ships aligning to enter/leave the harbor. (“The line of the harbor light (red) and the clock tower of the Honolulu Planing Mill on Fort … just touches the west side of this channel at the outer end.”) (Hawaii Bureau of Customs)
In addition, the clock served as a local time piece, as well as the official time to mariners. “Time-Signal at Planing Mill … a time-signal has been established at the Honolulu steam-planing mill, Honolulu, Sandwich islands. The signal is a whistle, which is sounded twice daily by electric signal from the survey office; … (giving time associated with) Greenwich mean time. (Nautical Magazine, January 1890)
The Lucas clock didn’t always work, “Lucas’ clock … At 7 this morning the clock was of the opinion that 10:45 was about the correct time.” (Hawaiian Star, October 25, 1895)
“Lucas’ clock on the Esplanade has been groggy for some time lately but repairs are being made. It’s a godsend to the waterfront people and the government should keep it in repair.” (Evening Bulletin, July 12, 1897)
Others wanted to be different, “Maui wants to adopt the Government time on Lucas’ clock with five minutes added, but some few will not agree to it. The result is a great uncertainty in times. (Maui, June 28)” (Hawaiian Gazette, July 1, 1890)
Lucas was one of the first contractors and builders in Honolulu, and constructed many of the business buildings in the city.
He built the Campbell Block, the Pantheon Block, the Brewer Block and many other large downtown buildings, and was responsible for all woodwork construction in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel (the one downtown, it was later the Army/Navy YMCA and now the Hawaiʻi State Art Museum.)
Most notably, when King Kalākaua decided to build ʻIolani Palace, he named George Lucas as general superintendent and the contractor for all of the cabinetry, woodwork and finishing in the Palace. (Nellist)
George Lucas supervised the carpentry, using fine imported (e.g., American walnut and white cedar) and Hawaiian (koa, kou, kamani and ʻōhiʻa) woods.
The sophisticated mansard roofs and the detailed brickwork, moldings and wrought iron were completed in time for Kalākaua’s coronation ceremony on February 12, 1883, for which the palace served as centerpiece. (Kamehiro)
For many years Mr. Lucas was Chief Engineer of the Honolulu Volunteer Fire Department, and during the reign of King Kalākaua he was offered the position of superintendent of public works, but declined it. (Nellist) After retiring, he was acting Chief for six months, as the Department was unwilling to nominate anyone else, and only did so because he refused to serve.
“It was through his persistent efforts that the first two steam fire engines were imported to these islands, and when he retired from the office of Chief he still retained a deep interest in the department, and was made an honorary member of No. 1 Engine.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 3, 1892)
Lucas was the founder and first president of the old Mechanics’ Library (Honolulu Library and Reading Room,) now the Hawaiʻi State Library.
George and Sarah had nine children; the seven who lived were Thomas, Charles, John, George, Albert, William and Eliza. (Nellist)
Following his death in 1892, sons Thomas, Charles and John formed a partnership, Lucas Brothers, to carry on the trade and business of carpenters, builders and contractors; it lasted until April 19, 1910, when son John incorporated the concern.
“No citizen was better known than he. He could count his friends by the score, and when he made a friend it was a friendship that would last forever.”
“There are few individuals in Honolulu who have done more in the way of charity and benevolence in proportion to their means than Mr. Lucas.” (Pacific Commercial Advertiser, March 3, 1892)
Bev Sierpina says
This is most interesting. In my research to find more about my great granduncle who lived in Honolulu from about 1878-1883, I came across this Honolulu Steam Planing Mill. Uncle Timothy Bee was a pattern maker and also lived on Fort Street, so I am thinking he may have worked there. 4-5 of Timothy’s children were born in Honolulu and perhaps one is buried at Nu’uanu Cemetery. It has been very difficult to find info re why Timothy, an English native, moved from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Your articles here and on Facebook have given me some insight.